Running low on food and money, Vermont residents stranded by flooded roads relied upon provisions dropped by National Guard troops to get by Wednesday while the rest of the East Coast labored to recover from the wrath of the hurricane-turned-tropical storm known as Irene.
At Killington Elementary School, residents came for a free hot dog and corn-on-the-cob. Jason and Angela Heaslip picked up a bag filled with peanut butter, cereal and toilet paper for their three children and three others who are visiting from Long Island.
“Right now, they’re getting little portions because we’re trying to make the food last,” said Jason Heaslip, who only has a dollar in his bank account because the resort where he works hasn’t been able to pay him due to the storm.
One flooded Vermont town still remained totally cut off from the outside world Wednesday, and National Guard helicopters were still dropping supplies on storm-ravaged parts of the state. In places like Killington, residents were banding together to keep the community functioning. Some volunteered tractors to help remove mud and debris, while those with working electricity were letting neighbors use their showers.
Nearly 2 million people remained without power in water-logged homes and businesses from North Carolina through New England, where the storm has been blamed for at least 45 deaths in 13 states. Raging floodwaters continued to ravage parts of northern New Jersey on Wednesday morning, even after the state’s rain-swollen rivers crested and slowly receded.
“It’s like an island now,” said Falguni Purohit, who owns the Killington Pico Motor Inn on Route 4 in Mendon, Vt., where her family and one guest are trapped. “We can’t go anywhere.”
The town of Rutland is 15 miles away but impossible to reach because of extensive road damage. Purohit said the family has power and plenty of food and water to keep them going, but no way of leaving. Nearly 11 inches of rain triggered the deluges, which knocked houses off their foundations, destroyed covered bridges and caused earthquake-style damage to infrastructure all over Vermont.
“We are dropping water, food and supplies, trying to help out folks who are hurting,” said U.S. Army national Guard Capt. David Fabricius, who was working at an airport in Fair Haven, Vt., where ground crews were loading provisions onto helicopters that recently had flown missions in Iraq.
Towns around New Jersey resembled large, soggy yard sales Wednesday as residents dragged flood-damaged belongings out onto lawns and into streets still muddied with floodwaters left behind by Hurricane Irene. In Wallington, a heart-shaped, one-square-mile town of about 12,000 residents, large sections remained inundated with floodwaters from the Passaic River, which winds around the small hamlet and hits it from several angles.
“Sunday morning the water was only up to here,” said resident Kevin O’Reilly, gesturing to where his front lawn used to meet the sidewalk. “Sunday afternoon, the waves were bouncing off the house, and that’s when it blew out the basement windows. It sounded like Niagara Falls. It just filled up immediately, and this is what we’ve been dealing with since then.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday night that he saw “just extraordinary despair” after touring flooded areas.
Irene washed away large swaths of beach along Connecticut’s coast, leaving many residents concerned about ocean water closing in around their property.
Emergency orders have been issued to allow coastal residents to immediately repair or shore up areas that threaten properties.
The Connecticut River at Hartford crested Tuesday evening at its highest level since 1987, according to Nicole Belk, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, in Taunton, Mass. But she said levees helped minimize flooding in riverside communities.
Vermont’s largest electric utility says a convoy of line crews is headed for the town of Rochester — where a power substation was completely destroyed by flooding — to begin work to restore power. Officials say at least five Vermont schools are closed until further notice and about 120 have delayed opening for the school year because of roads or schools ravaged by flooding.
Flood control dams and basins that New England states installed after 1955 floods helped prevent a catastrophe in the lower Connecticut River basin, said Denise Ruzicka, director of inland water resources for Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
In Vermont, officials focused on providing basic necessities to residents who in many cases still have no power, no telephone service and no way to get in or out of their towns
Vermont National Guard choppers made three drops in Killington, Mendon, Pittsfield and Rochester Tuesday while 10 other towns received truck deliveries of food, blankets, tarps and water. Eight Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters from the Illinois National Guard are expected to arrive Wednesday to bolster the number of flights.
Volunteers in Windham, N.Y., helped 26-year-old Antonia Schreiber salvage the floors of the 200-year-old Victorian cottage she had transformed into a luxury day spa.
The ski town, high in the Catskill Mountains, was left under several feet of brick-red water Sunday night after a stony creek grew to a raging river fueled by a foot of rain.
“Friends, loved ones, people I don’t even know showed up with trucks, bulldozers and hugs,” she said as men and women scraped and mopped around her. “The magnitude of generosity and good will is just overwhelming.”
While East Coast residents measured the cost of the storm in waterlogged cars and ruined furniture, official predictions were more dire.
In North Carolina, where Irene blew ashore along the Outer Banks on Saturday before heading for New York and New England, Gov. Beverly Perdue said the hurricane destroyed more than 1,100 homes and caused at least $70 million in damage.
During a visit to the Catskill Mountains Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he expects damage in the state to total $1 billion.
Early Wednesday, President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in New York, freeing up federal recovery funds for people in eight counties. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs. Irene destroyed 500 to 600 homes and thousands of acres of farmland in upstate New York.
Total losses from the storm along the U.S. Atlantic Coast — including damage and expenses incurred by governments — are likely to be about $7 billion, according to Jan Vermeiren, CEO of Silver Spring, Md.-based risk consultant Kinetic Analysis Corp., which uses computer models to estimate storm losses.